Mark Montgomery, college admissions expert and professional educational consultant, speaks from the campus of Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, about the importance of finding a college whose culture will fit with you. When visiting campuses, pay attention to what kind of people make up the student body and ask yourself, “Is this my crowd?”
Right now I’m on the campus of Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. This is a liberal arts college, even thought it says it’s a university, it’s primarily a liberal arts college. It has a few master’s degrees that it offers. It’s in a beautiful area, about 30 or 40 miles from Syracuse, rural area but a small town. So it’s a fairly bustling small town with the pizza joint and the bars and the cafe and the Dunkin’ Donuts and everything you need.
But what I find interesting in visiting colleges is how different the students can seem, just even by appearance. If you walk around the campus and look with a critical eye about what the kids are wearing, what they’re saying, what they’re doing, you can discern a difference. So I always have to ask my students, “So who are your friends?” And “What are the kinds of people you want to hang out with on a day-to-day basis?” So I was recently at Vassar, and Vassar definitely gives off this very liberal vibe, it’s not necessarily in the way people dress, but it’s certainly a political viewpoint that kind of pervades the student body there. And then at Bard College, if you are walking around there, you see kids who are a little more informal, a little bit more — they’re definitely liberal but they’re much more laid back and much less concerned about what people think. Here at Colgate, you just see a lot more kids in designer clothing. I saw a ton of Hilfiger, for example, guys in seersucker shorts and women in nice little dresses. A little but more dressed up, I guess you’d say. Slightly more conservative, at least in appearance.
Again, I’m making some generalizations about a student body by looking at different people. But I think it’s helpful to really think for yourself, who are my friends? I just ran into one of my former students who is here at Colgate, loving it, absolutely loving it, and I saw him on the rugby field, it was kind of a coincidence. So I asked him, I said, “So who among your friend would be unhappy here?” And I had a shortcut because this is a student I’ve known since he was in middle school, and I know a lot of his friends, and so I asked him, “So who among your friends would not be happy here?” And he rattled off several names of people that just, they’d be smart, they’d be capable of handling a place like Colgate, certainly have every potential of getting in, but would not be happy here among the students who tend to populate this campus. And that was helpful, because I could identify, because I know the students, I could identify that student personalities that would be less comfortable here.
Now anyone could adapt to anywhere, and some kids are more chameleon-like than others, and you know, in some ways how much does it matter? Well, I don’t know, it’s really up to you, but I think it’s definitely something to think about as you’re choosing a college. Who are my peeps? Who do I want to hang out with? What are the types of people that challenge me, that keep me engaged, the kinds of friends I have and like to hang out with? That’s what you’re going to get when you buy a college, you’re buying a community. So think about that, think long and hard, and then try to find the community that best matches your priorities.